Share the Future IV

Survive This!  Reality-based Learning
Don Falkenburg, Marie Lee, and Diane Schuch-Miller
Greenfield Coalition

Objectives and Handout

One of the challenges of engineering education is that students are unable to extrapolate information from a textbook problem to the real-world experiences of an engineer on the job. This is due, in large part, to the lecture style of teaching and learning exemplified in most engineering classrooms. This mode of teaching does not allow learners to link the new information to a familiar context, nor does it allow students to test their own hypotheses and discover through their own experiences. The difficulty, then, is to identify other instructional methods that are better able to develop critical thinking, problem analysis, and decision-making skills. At the Greenfield Coalition (GC), the answer has been to turn to reality-based learning (RBL).

Used by medical schools for years, this immersive approach of RBL gives the student the ability to apply new knowledge and skills in a manner that, based on their prior experiences, makes sense. In doing so, learners test their own theories and make their unique connections to previous knowledge. This method lets students organize the new concepts in a more logical and relevant framework. Subsequently, recall of fresh information and application to new situations becomes much easier.

The GC members have focused on this method of teaching and are learning to prepare engineering students for the real world. This workshop discusses how members of the GC write performance-based objectives, identify assessments that emulate real-world deliverables, and design learning activities that support students in the acquisition of skills and techniques useful in a variety of situations outside of the learning environment. A variety of examples will be demonstrated to stimulate innovative thinking. Participants will use, and leave with, a handy tool kit for designing their own RBL activities and related assessments.

Following this workshop, attendees will be able to

  • Write a performance-based learning objective,
  • List authentic assessments that meet specified performance-based objectives,
  • Brainstorm potential learning activities to support the learning objective and conclude with an authentic assessment, and
  • Design a reality-based learning activity to support an objective for courses they teach.


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